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EU nations mull expelling Russian diplomats after spy attack

The leaders of several EU countries said Friday they are mulling whether to expel Russian diplomats or take other steps to support Britain following a nerve agent attack on a former spy.

European Union leaders returned to summit talks on Friday after uniting behind British Prime Minister Theresa May in blaming Russia for the attack in England, and agreeing to recall the bloc’s ambassador to Moscow for consultations.

Britain expelled 23 Russian diplomats they said were spies, and has been pressing EU allies to follow suit despite Moscow’s warning against confrontational steps.

The leaders of former Soviet bloc EU states the Czech Republic and Lithuania, as well as Denmark and Ireland, said they were considering further unilateral steps, including expelling diplomats.

“I think national measures will be applied already starting from next week… from a lot of countries,” Lithuania’s outspoken President Dalia Grybauskaite said returning to the summit on Friday.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis told the CTK news agency that Prague may expel several Russian diplomats over the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

“Yes, we will probably move in this direction,” Babis said, adding he will consult with cabinet members on Monday.

Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said his government would decide early next week whether to expel diplomats following a security assessment.

“We are not going to randomly expel people who are genuine diplomats,” Varadkar told reporters.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said his government heard the “strong signal” from the bloc’s leaders.

He said he would hold consultations with members of his government.

“My government will then in the next coming days very seriously consider to take further steps,” Rasmussen said.

– Concern about Russian meddling –

A French presidency source said Thursday that Paris was also ready to act.

The poisoning has heightened worries across Europe about Russian meddling — from repeated cyber attacks to what the EU has called an “orchestrated strategy” of disinformation aimed at destabilising the bloc.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has close ties with Moscow and has clashed with Brussels on democracy issues, was behind the plan to recall the EU ambassador in solidarity with Britain, a diplomatic source said.

“At yesterday’s meeting it was PM Orban who proposed the recall of the EU ambassador to Moscow for consultations in Brussels,” the diplomatic source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“Greece and Italy were the most reluctant to take further common actions against Russia.”

During a visit to Hanoi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that British officials “are feverishly trying to force allies to take confrontational steps”.